The Third Sunday in Lent, Year C, 2016 – Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!
Here in the middle of Lent, from the prophet Isaiah, words of such joy!
It is a bit like this beautiful day unexpectedly arriving at the tail end of February. Out of the grey long winter, suddenly a touch of warmth. When I woke up this morning, birds were singing outside our window and at the horizon (or what I can see of it behind the rooftops) a band of gold.
These words of Isaiah speak hope: God’s blessing poured out, more than we can ask or imagine, even in a dry land.
And they speak to the people of God—a people in fact, when Isaiah first speaks to them in about 540 BC, still in exile, living their own long February in an alien land. Out of exile, in the middle of Lent, God speaks to his people.
He tells us what it means to be his people, the people whom even in their wintertime, he loves.
It is a reading for us on this Vestry Sunday, because we are thinking today in a deliberate way about what it means to be God’s people, to be the church here at St. Matthews.
And the first thing we hear is the call. Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. It is God who gathers us here. He has called us by name. Each one of us chosen by name and precious; each of us called here by name, summoned from the ends of the earth, or from next door, to come and be God’s people here.
We are the people of God’s own making: in a very real sense this is God’s church and not our own. And that means joy.
There is a joy at the root of our life here together—because our life at St. Matthew’s springs from God’s invitation; because it rests in his hands; because we come to God’s feast.
Come to the waters, everyone who thirsts.
Our first task as a church is to recognize God’s call and God’s sovereignty in our life here together, to know that it is He who has made us and not we ourselves, and he holds us in his hands.
The second thing is to recognize our need. Ho! Everyone who thirsts. Through the prophet Isaiah, God speaks a word of hope to a people who need hope. It is, when Isaiah first speaks these words, about 540 BC, more than 40 years after the fall of Jerusalem. The once great kingdom of Israel is scattered among the nations; their young men and their young women captive in Babylon for almost 50 years. They are prisoners and refugees, feeling that they are far from God’s land; longing for a home. It is to God’s people in their need that the prophet speaks. You that have no money, you my dear and scattered people, come, buy and eat. You who thirsty, come. You who are lost.
And in this, Isaiah speak to every one of us. For, as Jesus also makes clear in the Gospel reading from Luke, we are all lost.
“Do you think,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke, that these people whom Pilate slaughtered were worse sinners than all the rest of the Galileans because they suffered in this way?” No, I tell you. All of us know the suffering of sin. All of us know the dry place that is our distance from God.
Alas! T. S. Eliot says. We are the hollow men.
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass.
There is an exile that haunts our hearts, from the greatest of us to the least. And it is here that God calls us. In the time of exile, God calls us, light in our darkness. Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. You, O my people, scattered and bereft, you my people, come buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.
It is like the light that streams through the windows at the back of the church. One of the things I love about this church is its windows. I love the stained glass, but I love also the two clear windows at the back. I am sure you know the story—that they were once stained glass, put in by the congregation of St John’s that used to share this church. When St. John’s moved to another location, they took the windows with them. But that, it seems to me, has been God’s gift. For when I come in here on a winter afternoon the light streams through those windows in shafts like cathedral columns, washing the church in gold. Light in our darkness. That is God’s promise to us.
This is the place of redemption. And so the church is, thirdly, the place of hope.
It begins with Christ.
It is wine, after all, that God offers his people, wine beyond price, and the bread that is true.
Why do you spend your money for that
Which is not bread,
And your labour for that which does
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourselves in rich food.
God calls to his people in exile to come home—but it is not simply to the land of Israel that he calls them. He calls them to the bread that cannot be bought. He calls his people to the Word.
“Incline your ear,” God says, “and come to me. Listen, so that you may live.”
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.
God calls us to his Word, now made flesh and walking among us, God’s grace and truth in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Long ago God glorified his people Israel through a leader and a witness, David the king. Now in these last days God has glorified his people through another King, Jesus, David’s Son.
It is Jesus who comes to the people in exile. It is Jesus who comes to the people struggling with sin. It is Jesus who comes into our darkness and calls us and walks with us there. In Jesus, God’s call to us. In Jesus, God’s love for his people.
See how he loves us! He weeps to see our need, our distance from God:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it! How often have I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Jesus weeps to see our forsakenness…and he stands with us there.
As Sarah showed us in her sermon last week, Jesus is the hen who dies for her chicks, so that they may not die but live. So that we may not be alone, but may walk with God again.
Jesus is the gardener who digs around the tree and refuses to give up. Even the recalcitrant tree, especially the recalcitrant tree—this is the tree Jesus loves. Cut it down! The lord of the vineyard says. “Ah Lord,” says the gardener, “let me do what I can. Let me care for it and fertilize it and see if it will bear fruit.”
Jesus is the one who loves us past our barrenness, past our stubbornness, past our failure to bear fruit. Even and especially when our heart is barren, when we grieve because we feel that we bear no fruit for God, Jesus walks with us. He is the gardener, and we are his garden. He calls us to bear fruit, to turn our hearts to God; to be his light in the world. And when we fall down and fail and turn away, when we have no resources left and cannot help ourselves, he helps us especially then.
Seek the Lord where he may be found,
Call upon him while he is near…
Return to the Lord, that he may have mercy,
And to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
This is, finally, the church: this people with whom and in whom Jesus walks. This people whom the Lord seeks always, and who therefore seek the Lord, first and last and always.
And we can trust in him always. Jesus shines in good times and in bad, in darkness and in light; he shines when we cannot, and he will shine in us here.
We are called to be a sign of the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord. Each one of us bringing Christ’s love to another, here in our own family, day by day, praying with and for each other, sharing each other’s sorrows, rejoicing with each other in times of joy. Each one of us lit as the sun lights these pews by the knowledge of God’s love in the face of Jesus Christ; each of us being a light for another. Hope starts here.
But it does not end here. For the promise is to everyone. Ho, Everyone who thirsts. To reach out from here with the Word of hope, to shine out from here with the Word of Christ: this is also what it means to be the church.
See: you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you.
That is Isaiah’s promise, and Christ’s. And it is my prayer for us.
That we in this place may shine with the love and the grace of the Lord. That we may shine with Christ’s love in our love for each other, in prayer and friendship and good works. That we may shine with Christ’s glory in the beauty of this building, and in our care for it. That we may shine with Christ’s light in the hands that reach out. That we may shine with his light in this neighborhood; that we may shine with his light in the world; that we may shine for its children, for its refugees, for its people in need—as already, by God’s grace, we are beginning to do.
God has called us by name in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Word of God, Jesus our Light, may we answer your call.